Waking Up, Growing Up

Leo awake

“Consciousness is an itching rash that makes you scratch. Of course, you cannot step out of consciousness, for the very stepping out is in consciousness. But if you learn to look at your consciousness as a sort of fever, personal and private, in which you are enclosed like a chick in its shell, out of this very attitude will come the crisis which will break the shell.”

~ Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

At a certain point in the conscious process of inquiry into our true nature and identity, we might begin to slip out of the mental prison of our own fabrication, especially when we come to suspect that the magic show of consciousness has some definite drawbacks. Upon inspection, we can observe that it is always up to something. It is always modifying itself, wanting something, attaching to some hopeful notion or promise, or else avoiding something. It is invariably prone to grasping at some “proof” that sustains the hope that it can survive and thrive in the current form it believes itself to be – an enduringly independent entity in a world of other separate entities.

Furthermore, as we awaken, we begin to understand how the mental judgments we habitually embrace, such as the belief that life is something we need to manipulate in order to get what we think we want, actually creates the sense of dissatisfaction and stress that characterizes our usual experience. For those who are awakening to the light of our original nature, prior to the play of hope and fear, such restless cycles of craving and aversion begin to give way to simply being lived by the effulgent Mystery which is always shining beyond the confines of the small mind.

However, there is a particular paradox about awakening. For one thing, it is not always the blissful experience that some expect it will be, based on the popular “enlightenment” lore. It certainly is not a consolation, much less some kind of badge of accomplishment. In fact, it often reveals to us in a stark and uncompromising fashion just why we chose to remain asleep for so long. That’s because true awakening involves ceasing to grant reality to that which is not real. Just so, the more we open our eyes, the more we recognize that the unreal includes all that we have thought, felt, and presumed to know – all that we cherished about the fictional character we took ourselves to be. That realization can come as quite a shock, often provoking an internal crisis, which is why a relationship with Spiritual Friends and an open-hearted community of fellow practitioners is often recommended to help the aspirant in passing through the fire of transformation.

Seekers are often laboring under many false preconceptions about the process of liberation. For those who are hoping that there will be something special waiting just for them upon awakening, Sri Nisargadatta counters: “If you expect any benefits from your search, material, mental or spiritual, you have missed the point. Truth gives no advantage. It gives you no higher status, no power over others; all you get is truth and the freedom from the false.”

Moreover, having recognized what we have been up to – pretending to be what we never were — there are no longer any excuses for behaving unconsciously. “Waking up” thus comes with the express mandate that such recognition must now be embodied, or incarnated, in the way we act and behave with each other in the world of space and time, otherwise it eventually will become just a vanishing memory. That is what “awakened functioning” is all about. Insight must be grounded in functioning, in relationship. In other words, we must allow the awakening to manifest as a love without condition or boundary, preference or bias.

All along we’ve been committed to some great escape, always wanting things to be other than they are, life to be other than it is, but now those plans are brought to a grinding halt. We realize that there is no escape, this is it. As we awaken, we recognize that there is nowhere to go. As St. Augustine famously noted, “God triumphs over the ruins of our plans.”

At the same time, “waking up” also yields the paradoxical recognition that there is nothing to do, or more to the point, there is no doer. This is the difficult part of realization — to discard the sense of doer-ship, let go, and “let God”. It’s the very sense of personal doer-ship that sabotages even profound “spiritual” experiences, where the mind adds a “me and mine” to the functioning, re-enforcing the sense of a separate and enduring self.

We are being called to the realization of an infinite Freedom beyond the reach of both knowledge and belief. This Freedom is what is actually most true of us. When one begins to catch some glimpse of this, inspecting the mind itself to the point of transparency, the reliance on words, scriptures, and all second-hand beliefs, no matter how profound and exalted, becomes obsolete. We are left with the stark realization that we simply Are, that what is, simply is, and in this innocent ordinariness of life we can move, dance, and play as Love without any need to fixate identity in transient self-images of borrowed certainty — no false landings, nothing but open eyes, open hands, open heart.

Such maturity begins to dawn when we are willing to question our most deep-seated beliefs, assumptions, and presumed identities, submitting them to the relentless fire of True Inquiry. When our love of the Real is such that even our most closely held notions and concepts about the nature of ourselves and existence can be subjected to honest and probing investigation, we are beginning to emerge from our spiritual infancy and grow up. Until then, we typically drift along in a dreamy trance of un-inspected security, at the mercy of whatever conditioning filters are operative in the body/mind organism. In effect, we are like sleep-walkers, attendant only to our human animal needs and desires. In Buddhism, this is called The Wheel, and it spins us inexorably through innumerable dreamy births and deaths until the fabric of the dream itself begins to wear thin, and then there is the possibility of Seeing.

However, for just about all of us, it is only when we have arrived at the point when there is no other option, that we are ready and willing to stop and question the dream. After all, in the dream there are limitless experiences to be sought and exploited, and so the wheel keeps on spinning, and the dreamer keeps dreaming. Who would, in the midst of the dream, be so bold as to pull aside the curtain and unveil the wizard of the ego-mind at last? Indeed, the nature of Oz is so seductive, and those poppy fields of borrowed beliefs and unchallenged self-images are so very potent, that the last thing anybody really wants to do is to awaken, despite all protests to the contrary. To truly awaken entails walking off the cliff of consensus reality and flinging oneself into the Unknown, and that is a daunting prospect indeed!

To support our awakening and maturation during the conscious process of inquiry into our true nature and condition, there have been countless helpful suggestions down through the centuries. One way that many have found effective and transformative was introduced by Shakyamuni Buddha, and is known as the Noble Eight-Fold Path. It is comprised of right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. In essence, it cumulatively amounts to a prescription for a life lived with integrity, wisdom, and compassion – in other words, growing up.


Right view is born of humility. Without the foundation of genuine humility, all else is vanity. Such humility also entails the realization and acceptance of the fact that, regardless of our presumptions of knowledge, we really don’t know who or what we are. By allowing that recognition in, and totally relaxing into its implication, a space opens up, paradoxically, for the tacit but direct recognition of who we actually are, beyond the conceptual or comparative mind. With the dawning of humility, gratitude is also born.

Right aspiration is intention + attention for the best outcome in life and relations, not just for oneself, but for all sentient beings. A key component of right aspiration is both recognizing and then fully coming to terms with one’s core motivation for embarking on a spiritual adventure in the first place. Many seekers tend to affiliate themselves with some idealistic practice or method without first understanding what they really want – what their deepest yearning truly is. This in turn can lead to a lot of confusion, missteps, blind alleys, and dead ends along the way. For example, many seekers tend to start out with the belief that spirituality is all about the acquisition of exalted states and exotic powers, and hence their efforts only result in fueling the ambition of the ego-mind. Such expectations only add to the baggage that must eventually be surrendered, if one is to truly awaken beyond the need for having one’s existence confirmed and self-projections validated.

Right speech is speaking honestly – both to others and to ourselves. Moreover, right speech also precludes casting judgments about each other, because honestly, humans are the least qualified to judge each other. Consequently, more often than not, right speech is silence. This does not mean that we should refrain from speaking up in the face of injustice, or remain quiet when we see that harm is being done. It does, however, require a mature sense of discernment to gauge what manner of speech is appropriate or not in each situation. The great sage Shirdi Sai Baba summed up the essence of right speech when he suggested: “Before you speak ask yourself: Is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve upon the silence?”

Right action is “doing the right thing” with impeccable integrity, and each one knows what that consists of at any given moment. Nobody has to tell us, and we know in our heart when we miss the mark. To go even one step further, embodying the conscious principle of non-action – “doing nothing” – is true relaxation into one’s original freedom. As the Tao Te Ching wisely advises, “Do nothing, and everything is done.” This maxim should not be misunderstood as a call for avoidance, however. By grasping at nothing, but at the same time, turning nothing away, we can find the “middle way” in every situation we encounter. Alternately, many seekers tend to imagine and believe that right activity is a matter of pursuing various “spiritual” experiences. This can be a big trap, more often than not. Awakening is not adding something new, but letting go of all that obscures our true nature, including the craving for special experiences that end up only fattening the ego-mind.

Right livelihood has been poetically depicted by Rumi as “letting the beauty we love be what we do.” However, in today’s challenging world of shifting occupations, that might not be as easy as it sounds, and in fact, it probably has always been a struggle for most to find work in a field that most satisfies one’s heart. Of course, it would greatly help to gain some clarity and insight on what one’s purpose is for being here, but that knowledge requires a deep and persistent inquiry that few are willing to undertake. In any case, steering clear of any work which involves the exploitation and harm of one’s fellow beings is a good first step, as one strives to come to terms with a proper livelihood. The poet Kahil Gibran beautifully described what it entails to work from love when we wrote:
“It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your own heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit, And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.”

Right effort is an art and a skill, requiring above all a finely honed sense of emotional intelligence. For more on this matter, see the consideration on the Brahma Viharas, here.

Although there is a state beyond both effort and effortlessness, until it is realized, some effort is necessary. However, this doesn’t have to imply some grim undertaking, but when embarked upon with the serenity and humor that derives from intuition of our native happiness, it can be an enjoyable journey indeed. Without a healthy sense of humor, even the most profound aspirations will become stale and dry. When we refrain from taking ourselves too seriously, our efforts will not be weighed down by the burden of belief in a separate and desperate person in need of saving.

Right mindfulness is stepping back and refusing to believe everything we think – all the chatter of the monkey mind. Moreover, once awakened from the trance of borrowed concepts and transient self-images, right mindfulness means not falling back to sleep, and indulging in old habits of reactivity, such as greed, envy, intolerance, hatred, pride, resentment, regret, arrogance, judgmentalism, or negativity. Right mindfulness goes hand-in-hand with Right concentration, which is unswerving inquiry into the essence of mind, original nature, primordial identity. In the course of implementing the principle of right concentration, one may become naturally disposed to the practice of non-dwelling, which is refraining from fixating one’s attention on any arising mental or emotional formations, while remaining totally present in relaxed and stable wakefulness. It also is supported by the discipline of silence, or stillness.

Our application of these fundamental principles will determine the quality our time spent here, as well as create the foundation for future development, in keeping with the maxim, “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” Learning how to grow up and behave is the impetus for our evolution, both individually and as a species, and the supports proposed above, when engaged with heart-felt sincerity and resolve, will serve to propel our adaptation to increasingly mature levels of awake awareness.

waking up

About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: http://www.pbase.com/1heart Essays on the Conscious Process: https://theconsciousprocess.wordpress.com/ Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: http://feelingtoinfinity.wordpress.com/ Verses and ramblings on life as it is: https://writingonwater934500566.wordpress.com/ Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: https://themindthatneverwas.wordpress.com/ Verses on the Play of Consciousness: https://onlydreaming187718380.wordpress.com/ Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: https://themysteriousexpanse.wordpress.com/ Poems of the Mountain Hermit: https://snowypathtonowhere.wordpress.com/ Love Poems from The Book of Yes: https://lovesight.wordpress.com/ Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: https://travelsindreamland.wordpress.com/ Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: https://freetransliterations.wordpress.com/ Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: https://westernmystics.wordpress.com/ Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: https://spiritguidesparrow.wordpress.com/ Thank You!
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17 Responses to Waking Up, Growing Up

  1. claire says:

    This is deep

    • Bob OHearn says:

      It’s also very simple, especially when we remember that all we need to do is to be who we really are (instead of any contrived idea of who we are, or think that we should be, based on the opinions of others, for example). Thanks for reading, Claire!

  2. marcel says:

    Seeing the falseness of the self-image is nothing but beauty and bliss, even if only a glimpse, or an intuition.. But some have made their virtual identity into something admirable for themselves (depending/based on the current conditioning of the mob-world) so there might be a shock, but for those who’s virtual character have always been a “pest” an outcast of “society” or whatever imaginary negative thingy (relative on culture again but nonetheless granted reality by the ID-mind) ah what a release! ‘We” are always That!

    “Everybody is trying to understand the meaning of all this. You are not understanding because you have al the swaddling clothes of “I-am-this-or-that.” Remove them. The ultimate point of view is that there is nothing to understand, so when we try to understand, we are only indulging in the acrobats of mind. Whatever spiritual things you aspire to know are all happening in this objective world, in the illusion; all your activities, material and spiritual, are in this illusion; all your activities. All this is happening in the objective world, all is dishonesty, there is no truth is this fraud.
    ~Sri Niz (prior to consciousness)

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Great quote, Thanks, Brother! Indeed, there is no truth in this fraud, though that doesn’t stop seekers from scouring the temples, ashrams, and holy sites trying to squeeze a bit of juice from the tired old stones. We’re a funny species, who leave home to find the home we’ve left, eh. Gotta love it!


  3. Thanks for this Bob… A very helpful description.

  4. Bob OHearn says:

    From the Anattalakkhana Sutta:

    “How do you construe thus, monks — Is consciousness constant or inconstant?”

    “Inconstant, lord.”

    “And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?”

    “Stressful, lord.”

    “And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: ‘This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am’?”

    “No, lord.”

    “Thus, monks, any consciousness whatsoever — past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: every consciousness — is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: ‘This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.’

    “Seeing thus, the instructed Noble disciple grows disenchanted with consciousness. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is released.”

    “With release, there is the knowledge, ‘Released.’ He discerns that, ‘Birth is depleted, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.'”

  5. Bob OHearn says:

    “When you realize that all is in your mind and that you are beyond the mind, that you are truly alone; then all is you.”

    ~Nisargadatta Maharaj

    • Karen says:

      Oh, I think my sons need to hear that, take that in, understand that choice, not sure when they will see the same meaning I feel now. My now, is so different to theirs. They are 14 and 16. Young amazing inspired minds on their tour of discovery. I place things in front of their eyes, and hope they will see.

  6. Bob OHearn says:

    Q. How do I integrate spirituality into my everyday life?

    Adya. The question should not be ‘How to integrate?’ It should be ‘Who is the integrator?’ Once you go beyond the integrator, there is no longer the perception of a duality that needs to be integrated. Integration is between two. There is no such distinction between everyday life and spirituality. Integration means that you are still holding onto the false distinction of the mind. Cling neither to spiritual states nor mundane states. You are the stateless state. All is included within, and is, an expression of your Self. Throw out the concept of ‘spiritual’ and throw out the concept of ‘everyday life.’ There is only Life, undivided and whole.”

    ~ Adyashanti

  7. Bob OHearn says:

    “The questions is ‘What does one have to wake up to?’ And the answer is life. We wake up to life itself. Life is infinite. It is oneness. It is emptiness. It is the wonder of wonders. When I say ‘life’, I am not speaking about the life in our heads. That life is simply an accumulation of story lines, so we are not referring to that life. Whenever we say that we have a great life, we are speaking about the life in our head. And whenever we say that my life sucks, we are definitely speaking about the life in our head. There is life that exists in our head. It is nothing more than reading a story about the life of a character in a novel. It’s fiction, made up stories. None of it is real. That life in our head, the one we grasp and believe to be true, is actually only happening like a movie, like a novel in our head, in our deluded mind. Its not really happening.

    The life we are talking about waking up to is not this usual life that has all of these remembered stories. It is life that in some sense is actually quite mysterious. It is not your life or my life; it is the totality of life. It does not exclude anything, it encompasses everything – the clouds in the sky as well as the birds flying above us. It includes the breath we are taking in as well as the insect crawling on the ground. It includes the dew on the grass in the morning as well as the traffic on the highway. It includes the bliss in our hearts and the pain in our joints, everything we are glimpsing when we are no longer lost in the troubled mind. That is life. Life is actually big, It is infinite. It is boundless. ”

    excerpt from “The Magic of Awareness” by Anam Thubten

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